The Pros and Cons of a Four-Day Working Week

June 2022

Companies across the world are looking into how they can improve employee retention and increase satisfaction. One of the options that’s being trialled and implemented in lots of countries is the introduction of a four-day working week.

It’s said that a four-day working week increases employee satisfaction, company commitment and improves teamwork. It also reduces stress levels and gives employees more ‘down time.’ Another plus is that even though employees’ work schedules in trials have been reduced, it doesn’t seem to have harmed their productivity.

One of the leading countries in this new way of working is Iceland. Iceland's trials, run between 2015 and 2019, were hailed as overwhelmingly successful. 1.3% of the working population in Iceland took part in the trial and this led to a change in working practices country-wide.

The trial revealed that reducing the working week improved employee well-being. It was reported that employees suffered less stress and a reduction in ‘burn out.’ It was also reported that productivity stayed the same, or, in some cases, increased.

The results lead to Icelandic trade unions putting pressure on the government to change working practices in the country. 86% of workers in Iceland now have the right to work shorter weeks.

In June 2022, a six-month trial being run by researchers at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities in conjunction with Boston College, will trial a four day working week in the UK. As of early April 2022, 60 companies with over 3000 employees had signed up to take part in the trial. The purpose of the trial is to study the impact of shorter working hours on businesses’ productivity. It will also monitor the well-being of company employees and assess the impact on the environment and gender equality.

In 2020, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, suggested employers consider a four-day working week and other flexible working options. A New Zealand company, Perpetual Gardens, had been working a four-day week since 2018. In their roles, employees were paid the same as if they were working five days a week. They trialled a four-day working week over a six-week period before implementing the policy company-wide. During their trial, they found that productivity increased by 20%.

Andrew Barnes, founder of Perpetual Guardian, said the trial and subsequent implementation was “not just having a day off a week – it’s about delivering productivity, and meeting customer service standards, meeting personal and team business goals and objectives.”

A strong argument for change is that the UK works some of the longest hours in Europe. These longer working hours have a marked impact on our public health in comparison with other European countries. A quarter of sick days taken in the UK is attributed to employees being overworked. This will also have an impact on productivity statistics.

 

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons that should bec onsidered by companies who are thinking of introducing a four-day working week.

Pros of a four-day working week:

-       Employees work four days of the same length as before, they are not compressing the hours from five days in to four. This gives employees a better work/life balance, giving them more time for relaxation, spending with their friends and family and for leisure activities.

-       Productivity is said to stay the same or increase so that the company is not impacted.

-       Companies are attracting high-quality new talent. They’re demonstrating their company values by looking after their employees and considering their well-being, which is reflected in the calibre of new appointees.

-       The number of sick days declines with a shorter working week.  In a trial in Sweden between 2015 and 2019, nurses in a care home reduced their working hours to 30 hours a week. This resulted in better health for the nurses, better engagement with their patients and a reduction in the amount of time lost to ill-health.

-       Improved environmental benefit. Employees do not need to commute to work as often, reducing their carbon footprint which benefits the environment.

 

Cons of a four-day working week:

-       A four-day working week should not be confused with compressing five days hours into four days. In trials, when this happened, productivity decreased.

-       It can be costly. Implementing a four-day working week can be difficult as it requires the right support, technology and workplace culture. Setting up the logistics can be time-consuming and pricey, so there needs to be an excellent case for increased productivity to counteract the initial set up cost.

-       Customer service can be impacted if a four-day working is not implemented properly. Business can’t just work Monday toThursday with everyone having a long weekend from Thursday night to Monday morning. Customers need attention on a Friday too, so it’s important to get the right cover and work schedule in place to make sure customers are not affected.

 

To move to a four-day working week, companies must have a good business case and have the infrastructure in place to support the change. When a workplace moves to fewer hours, working practices often need to adjust. It’s not just about changing the working schedules and rotas. It might mean altering shift patterns, but also might mean a culture change, such as cutting down on meetings or eliminating unnecessary tasks from people’s schedules. This would certainly allow for greater productivity if managed right.

 

Sarah Rayment, Operations Manager at PayCaptain, works her hours flexibly.  She says, “At PayCaptain, we are fully remote and offer flexibility in our working hours.  All employees can work their hours at any time, from anywhere, as long as they can be productive individually and as a team.  I personally benefit from this policy by dedicating Fridays to my children and working my hours throughout the rest of the week.  I have never worked for a company who allow this amount of flexibility and it’s such a breath of fresh air to be able to work around personal commitments.”

In summary, there are some strong arguments for reducing working days from five to four. It is recognised that employees benefit from more leisure time which has a positive impact on their health and well-being, as well as increasing their productivity when they are at work. Companies wanting to implement a four-day working week must plan their scheduling to make sure their customer service is not impacted. They also need to manage the transition to a four-day week through planning and changes to company culture and processes.

To learn more about how PayCaptain can help your business and improve the financial well-being of your employees, please contact us for an informal, no-obligation chat. We’ll be happy to demo PayCaptain for you.

 

PayCaptainPayroll Solutions Limited, www.paycaptain.com is an HR/FinTech company that delivers a fully automated cloud payroll service. The solution contains many unique and innovative features for employees, helping them to take control of their pay and increase their financial well-being. PayCaptain is a payroll solution that helps employers pay their workforce regardless of income and personal circumstances. The solution also incorporates functionality that is specifically designed to positively impact financial resilience for people struggling with money, or vulnerable and low-income employees.

PayCaptain is the world’s first payroll company to be B-Corporation certified. To read more about B-Corporations, visit www.bcorporation.net

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